Cardinals can start taking control of NFC West with win over 49ers

TEMPE, Ariz. – They tried to play it off.

They tried to talk around it.

They tried not to pay attention to it.

But the Arizona Cardinals are in position to begin taking control of the NFC West with a win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers.

They already sit atop the division with a 2-0 record. A victory would continue to separate them from what’s turning into a pack. Seattle is 0-2 and hosts the Chicago Bears, who are without their starting quarterback and a wide receiver. St. Louis (1-1) hosts Pittsburgh, which scored 43 points against San Francisco last weekend.

It’s possible that by Monday, the NFC West can have a 3-0 team and three 1-2 teams. The more wins Arizona stacks in September, the less stressful the final eight games of the season will be, when the Cardinals have four division games scheduled.

“You never want to play catch-up in this league, because it’s hard to play catch-up,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Right now you get a lead. Hopefully, we can build on what we did last year and learn from what we did from last year, then continue it and finish it.”

While cornerback Patrick Peterson said it’s too early to start thinking about the playoffs, he added that in December the Cardinals don’t want to look back on September with regret.

Peterson referenced two losses in the first three games of 2013 as reminders of how early games can have an impact on the playoff picture in December. The Cardinals started 1-2 that year and finished 10-6, missing the playoffs by a game.

“We understand how important this game is,” Peterson added. “We’re definitely not looking at this game as another game on the schedule because last year was the last time we beat them here in a while.”

Arizona is 6-12 against San Francisco since 2006, when University of Phoenix Stadium opened, and 4-5 at home, including a win last season with Drew Stanton at quarterback. Before that, Arizona last beat the Niners at home in 2011 and 2008.

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has never beat the Niners in three attempts – two coming in 2013. When the schedule came out in April, Palmer first looked at the opening opponent and then for the first NFC West game.

“These are the games that you can’t wait for,” Palmer said. “I think we are very excited about this opportunity to hopefully get to 3-0 and 1-0 in the West. That would be huge, but it won’t be easy. Everybody knows that.”

Life in the NFC West hasn’t been easy. The Cardinals are 5-7 in the division under Arians. He stressed the importance of winning the West “if you are going to get where you want to go.” But San Francisco and Seattle have been in the way the last two seasons.

Despite the Seahawks’ and Niners’ early struggles, defensive end Calais Campbell expects Seattle to be lingering near the top of the division standings in December. He doesn’t expect the Niners to “fall away,” either. He also mentioned the Rams, who beat Seattle in Week 1, as being competitive this year.

Even though a victory Sunday could start separating the Cardinals from the rest of West, Arians still wants to take the season one game at a time.

“There’s 14 games to play,” he said. “We got a chance to beat the Niners. We’ll just keep adding them up and when we get to December, we’ll figure all that s--- out.”